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Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Kuwait: A Constitutional Emirate Or The “Arab Spring”?
By Salman Aldossary
Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabiah
is currently experiencing unprecedented social mobility, ranging from endless
strikes, mass-gatherings, popular movements, and most recently the issue of
bribery; where accusations of certain MPs “inflating their accounts” has
preoccupied the local press. However, what is more important than all of this
is the talk of the “Arab Spring” approaching the coast of Kuwait. While
supporters insist on this as a means of forwarding their demand for a
“constitutional emirate”, the government responded in a decisive manner through
the words of Kuwaiti National Assembly member, Ali al-Rashed, who said on a
television interview that those talking of the “Arab Spring” in Kuwait are
“traitors to the nation and are calling for a coup against the government”.
what is really happening in Kuwait?
to say, the talk about changing the way in which the Kuwaiti Prime Minister
assumes office, to be elected rather than appointed, is nothing new on the
Kuwaiti street. There have been calls for decades, within the Abdullah Al-Salem
hall in the National Assembly itself, advocating this direction. However, it is
interesting that there are those calling for a constitutional emirate, while
nothing in the constitution itself prevents the principle of an elected Prime
Minster. The Kuwaiti Constitution of 11/11/1962 stipulates that the form of
governance in the country should be in accordance with the constitutional
emirate system, whereby the ruling family holds the positions of Emir and Crown
Prince. As for the executive power (the government), there is no article that
attributes any position to the ruling family. In the past, it was customary for
the Crown Prince to assume the role of Prime Minister, yet these two posts have
since been separated. Who knows, perhaps Kuwait, ahead of its parliament’s
forthcoming session this month, will issue constitutional reforms from the
Emir, stipulating the appointment of a prime minister from outside the ruling
the most important issue with regards to this call for a “constitutional
emirate” is the fact that the National Assembly has held seven votes of
confidence with regards to Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad, since he
was appointed by the Emir. However, on each occasion the elected MPs were
unable to oust him. Thus, the constitution itself does not prevent the Kuwaitis
from changing their Prime Minister, or how he comes to office. Those who
prevent them are the MPs themselves, who came to power via the votes of the
electorate, and not through appointment. On each occasion there were those who
voted for al-Mohammad to remain in office, so do we blame the constitution
here, or do we blame the MPs who were installed in parliament by the people?
observer of the Kuwaiti scene would hardly notice that there is a feverish movement
to bring reforms to the ruling house; even these reforms are contrary to the
constitution. Indeed the MPs opposed to al-Mohammad, having failed to topple
him under the dome of the National Assembly, have now sought to make their
demands outside the Assembly. How perverse matters must seem to the observer,
when he sees these MPs violating the constitution, yet at the same time calling
for it to be invoked?
is not possible to criticize the Kuwaiti experience without the voters
themselves bearing some responsibility for the serious errors in their voting
and candidate choices. The MPs were unable to overthrow the Prime Minister
through a vote of no confidence, as noted above, but the message was clear to
the Kuwaiti leadership that there is a popular desire to choose a Prime
Minister from outside the ruling family. However, the Assembly itself has
insisted, session after session, on keeping the man who was appointed by the
Emir, something no-one understands except the elected MPs themselves, seemingly
satisfied with the Emir’s selection. This means that the Emir’s choice reflects
the MPs, and thus represents the choice of the people.
the majority of Kuwaitis insist that their Prime Minister should be a member of
the general populace, then they should apply this in practice by voting for an
MP who supports this theory. Otherwise, this means that their choice of MPs was
wrong from the start, and this is another problem altogether, but the
constitution is certainly not to blame!
-This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 03/10/2011
-Salman Aldossary is Asharq Al-Awsat's Assistant Editor in Chief